SharePoint Online backup & restore

A couple weeks ago, I tweeted a question, asking for a a link to the SharePoint Online Service Agreement. I was looking for information about the back-up and restore options performed by Microsoft Office 365 Support. We are currently working on a large Intranet portal within SharePoint Online. A major part of the implementation is the information architecture.  I have to create the site structure and decide between site collections and / or sites. One important factor in the decision is the backup & restore process. I really needed an answer to the following questions:

1. What are the restore options from MS Office 365 Support? Do they restore only site collections? Or sites, document libraries & lists, documents & items?
2. How do they restore these items? In place or as additional content with a different filename?

To be honest, I was having problems finding a clear answer to these important questions! I decided to submit a service request with Microsoft Office 365 Support. I received the following reply:

If for some reason data can’t be recovered through the GUI, we provide backup available on the server. For this you need to log the request up to 14 days after accident occurs. This way we can restore files/folders/libraries/main site collections and sub site collections. Basically most items under a site collection. The restore is made by overwriting the existing data. Any duplicate entries are not lost. Duplicate items are restored with the number 1 in the end and it’s up to you which one you would like to keep. The restore can’t be done on a separated location.

Wow, this is important stuff. First of all, you are always going to receive a backup with old data. This results in being stuck with duplicate files with a number 1 in the end. That’s very time consuming to get everything sorted after the backup. You don’t want to restore a complete site collection for just one library or item right? I asked a follow-up question:

“Do you always restore a site collection? No matter the type of content we would like to restore, for example a document library.”

I received the following answer:

If a restore is needed for a document library under a main site collection, then the whole site collection will need to be restored. If the library is placed under a sub site, then we can restore just the sub site. So it’s advisable if you are planning to have multiple libraries, to spread them under sub sites.

Again, very important! Only site collections or sites are restored. Never lists, libraries, items or documents. The good thing is at least that sub sites are also being restored and not only the site collection. This information is very important for governance & compliancy purposes. You have to tell your customers, or your own company, about the backup & restore options, basically limitations,  within SharePoint Online. In case you really need to have longer, or granular, backups you have to look into 3rd party solutions. I don’t have experience with one so I can’t recommend any. Try and search on Google. Please leave feedback in case you have a recommendation.

I hope the above information is helpful for everyone with the same questions I had. I want to thank a selection of people for providing information: Maarten Eekels, Marco Faasse, Rene Modery, Trevor Seward and Juan Carlos González. Thanks guys!


Maarten Eekels provided valuable input:


There is some time between submitting a service request and actually restoring the site. The 14 days is a hard limit. So don’t expect to be able to go exactly 14 days back when you submit the request. Backups occur every 12 hours, so it is not possible to go back just one hour or so (unless you are lucky and that backup ran one hour ago :)).


TechNet SharePoint Online Service Description

Manage the Recycle Bin of a SharePoint Online site collection

10 thoughts on “SharePoint Online backup & restore”

    1. Hi V 🙂

      Until today I haven’t seen any issues with our Office 365 customers around backup & restore. The recycle bin often does the job but that doesn’t mean it’s all perfect of course. It’s good to inform customers about the current options and policies in SharePoint Online. I am interested to see if any changes are going to be made to the current model.

      Thanks again for the comment, appreciate it.

  1. Hi Jasper,

    We’ve just had a restore case with a customer and have experienced the limitations of the restore options that Microsoft support can provide.

    There are quite a few third party solutions that we’d like to investigate for a better backup solution. We’ve come accross:

    • MetavisTech
    • AvePoint Online Services (DocAve Online)
    • CloudAlly
    • CloudFinder
    • Skykick

    Should anyone else have other options, or recommendations: please let me know. Also, it would be great if it would include Exchange Online backup and Onedrive backup functionality too.

    1. Thanks for your comment Dennis 🙂 Would you be able to share what the limitations were for your case? Really curious!

    2. Metalogix Essentials for O365 can help big time. Granular backup and restore of SharePoint Sites / SiteCollections, OneDrives and Exchange.

  2. Main limitations were the fact that this specific customer had everything stored in document libraries under the main teamsite site collection. Restoring a few lost documents would mean their other data would be heavily “infected” with restore files.

  3. Hi guys

    We would recomend SkyKick, a company run by former Microsoft Execs, it’s easy to install (couple of minutes, fully cloud based on Azure and works fine – they have nice support 24/7 for free included and monthly billing (by mailbox / licensed users for SPO).

    Even it’s not a full scale enterprise backup solution it does the job (you can license for either just mailboces or the other pacakge SPO & OneDrive files and you have the choice to save the backup sets to your own Azure storage if you want….

    Unlimited retention, up to 6 backups a day, 256bit encryption at rest, 128 in transit – it’s free for all MPN partners to use internally….so check it out, nicely done.

  4. Thx for the article, Jasper. Good stuff.
    For more clarity; Microsoft is doing ‘technical’ backups, no ‘functional’ backups for customers. If you’re looking for functional backups, you can use solutions our partners offer (Metalogix, AvePoint etc.).

    With versioning enabled by default (you can always go back one or more versions of a document), different stages of recycle bins, most customers are being served by the default options. Also hold, retention management and records can sometimes help, for example in case of a document management system. If a customer wants to have full backup- and restore options for longer than the default options, they have to use other tools. However, like I said, for most of the customers there is no need to.

  5. I think that a “functional” banckup is mandatory. Try to just change an extension to a file (like ransomware malware does ) sync and after what are you able to restore from versions ?!? Nothing in my experience.
    I want to investigate with you if there is a method to use Azure Backup for sharepoint on line (not Server or virtual version).

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